Back in 2012, writing as Astrobot, I began posting my “Astro-Notes” to The Stadium Wall. So many fans were from out of town, and I lived 5 minutes away from St. John Fisher, so armed with clipboard and pencil, I began writing down what out-of-town fans would want to know, typing my notes up (usually about 8-10 pages’ worth) and posting it on “The Wall”.
Fast forward to 2018. This is the same deal, different venue, still free. I will be attending camp August 1, 2, 5, 7, 14, and 15, and I’m looking for a ticket for August 12. I usually post these notes about 2 hours after the end of practice.
August 1, 7:50 am EST
It was overcast and 70 degrees with a light breeze at St. John Fisher today. There are fewer vendors and merchandise in the big tent, and it felt roomy. You have to wonder if it’s worth it for the Bills to make their way to this amazing facility. The contract runs out in 2020, and SJF alumnus Russ Brandon’s gone. Ten teams still travel away from their home turf, hopefully for the camaraderie.
There are “No Videotaping” signs every thirty feet along the fences separating the grandstands from the field. They allow clipboards and pens, so I’m good. I sit with Mike (who I met last year) and his two sons, who’s been at practice before. Thanks for your insight, Mike!
Mike tells me that O’Leary is the first player out on the field every day, and sure enough, he’s out stretching and talking to TE Coach Boras. He wins because he’s a grinder. That goes a long way around here.
The second player out is Josh Allen. He did stop to sign a few autographs for some kids, and his calm demeanor, both on and off the field, is so refreshing. Daboll follows, and he smiles and nods when Mike’s kids yell, “Coach Daboll!”
More players follow: Reid Ferguson, who stops by the guys who run the JUGS machine. Coach Dees, the Assistant OL Coach gives us a nod. Lorenzo Alexander –the mayor of the defensive room– comes out and kneels on one knee, followed by Cory Carter and Tyler Davis.
Josh Allen does a touch-pass drill by himself where he tries to pass the football as close to the goalpost crossbar without touching it. Redmond, who I have as a 3rd string OT, is jumping up onto the plyometric boxes, and Wyatt Teller joins him. Mike tells me that Teller has been called offsides 3 times in the last 3 practices. That’ll have to stop if he wants snaps.
Peterman doesn’t look up when the boys call his name. McDermott has a ruddy face like he’s winded from walking down the asphalt to the field (highly unlikely, as he’s pretty cut for a big man). Kelvin Benjamin signs for some kids, as does A.J. McCarron. Newhouse walks to the field trailed by a videographer. Jason Croom is taking passes from the JUGS machine from point-blank range. Zay Jones looks raring to go, doing sit-ups, holding a medicine ball. I got winded typing my shoes today.
It’s 8:36, and the song on the P.A. system is “The Boys Are Back In Town” by Thin Lizzy. Yes. Yes, we are. It’s a light crowd right now, but by the end of practice, the stands are almost full.
I’m wearing the jersey of my pet cat, Harrison Phillips. Here he comes. I am verklempt. Horrible Harry stops at the edge of the field, immobile, back to the spectators. He’s praying. Mike tells me he does it every day. This guy is special.
Keith Ford, perhaps the longest long-shot to make RB, is practicing catches on the sideline. Lorenzo kneels alone on the sideline watching the kick return crew setting up, and the Gregg Williams Memorial Air Horn heralds the beginning of practice.
The kick returner du jour is Kaelin Clay (who always went first). Others who I thought took kicks were Quan Bray, Malachi Dupre, and Keith Ford, but don’t trust my eyesight.
After KR comes calisthenics, and a shout-out to those players who impressed me as NOT just going the motions were Benjamin and Fede. Honorable mentions to Tre White, Teller, and Wesley. Even the refs were stretching.
During positional drills, McCarron went first, then Peterman, then Allen. The QBs practiced handoffs, rollouts, and later throws to WRs (except Peterman, who threw to RBs, with Chris Ivory slipping on one route). The WRs practiced comebacks and posts, and Benjamin always went first. Boy, does he look ready. To my untrained eye, only Brandon Reilly let the ball come into his body to catch it. The OL were practicing blocks, and you can tell by his body language, Teller has his head on a swivel; this isn’t comfortable to him at all. De’Ondre Wesley is a head taller than Teller. Mills and Miller are rocks –boulders, actually. They’re ideal for the power-run game. I am more impressed than the media with De’Ondre Wesley; he “sits in his chair” in pass-protect and looks the part. I thought Ducasse, Teller, Miller, Newhouse, and McDermott won their 1-on-1’s. TEs are doing drills with the red-shirted Logan Thomas doing “mental reps”(which is what most of us do on Friday afternoons). Later he goes on a fly pattern about 30 yards, so he’s almost back.
There are no video towers any more. Three tents, one at either end of the field and one at the 50-yard line, provide 360-degree video. Inside the tents you can see folks breaking down film on the fly, for use this afternoon in meetings.
“Hurry up” field goal drills followed positionals, and it was impressive to watch Hauschka nail three straight field goals given about 8 seconds from the end of one play until the kick.
11 on 11’s followed. You see an awful lot of plays where a TE is lined up in the slot, other plays where McCoy is split out wide, and some nice wrinkles we haven’t seen before with other coordinators. McCarron’s first series was highlighted by a 25-yard gain by McCoy, but also highlighted by a defensive pressure I’ve not seen before in early August. Peterman’s first series that followed was wonky at best. Eddie Yarbrough and Terrence Fede stymied the first handoff for a loss, Malachi Dupre wasn’t looking back when Peterman threw a seam route to him, then he had to dump the ball off to Cadet when he felt the DL pressure. After throwing the ball out of bounds to avoid a sack, Allen had the lone TD play on a handoff to Keith Ford, who flew. On his third play, Allen looked smooth in a fake handoff/toss play. Winner: Allen. Loser: Peterman.
McCarrron has Benjamin and Reilly out wide on the near side, motioning Clay across to determine if they were in man or zone, and Benjamin drew the defense to him, leaving Clay with oodles of space to operate. On a two-back set, McC threw it 20 yards to Kaelin Clay, who couldn’t bring it in (Micah Hyde sighting). McCarron finished his series with a handoff to Chris Ivory for a long gain with Croom the motion man. Peterman hands off to Marcus Murphy for a long gain. Murphy impresses me, and he’s the youngest in that room. He’s a one-cut, fast player that complements Shady and Ivory. Peterman’s handoff to Taiwan Jones goes up the middle for <5 inches. With trips left, Peterman fires off a Play of the Day downfield to Jason Croom, but the “Wow” play was interrupted by Fight Number One. Allen’s series was comprised of a throw to Taiwan Jones for a minor gain, an Alexander TFL on Keith Ford, and a flea-flicker that was 4 yards too long for Quan Bray to reel in. Winners: McCarron, Peterman. Loser: Allen, although the flea-flicker would have tied this series.
The offense played against air for the next series, with Allen passing the ball 2 yards behind Charles Clay, an offensive penalty, and a nice catch by Rod Streater. Peterman’s pass was complete to Kaelin Clay and on the next play, Cam Phillips left too early (flag). On the very next play there was another flag on the O on McCarron’s pass to Keith Towbridge. That’s all I saw of Peterman. You can tell Daboll is forcing the QBs to look down the middle of the field for a moment, then begin their progression. McCarron’s pass to Quan Bray was complete, as was his pass to Robert Foster. Allen hands off to Chris Ivory, completes passes to Streater and Shady. Winner: Allen (no penalties).
On the next series, what was most interesting is how well Conor McDermott gets out in space on two successive plays to block. Peterman’s halfback tosses to Marcus Murphy and Chris Ivory were made successes by that blocking. Peterman had nice passes to Ray-Ray McCloud and Kaelin Clay to end his series. Winner: Peterman.
More 11 on 11 ensued. The defensive pressure was intense. Allen got a quick out to Streater for 5, but the next two downs were a loss of 8 and LJ McCray’s blitz to force an errant pass. Peterman made the better of it, with a pass left to Dupre, then on the next play using great eye discipline to look a defender off which cleared the flats for a Kaelin Clay touchdown. He drew the D offsides on the next play. Peterman’s last pass was 3 yards off Khari Lee for an incompletion. McCarron’s series began with a sidearm throw to Jason Croom, but the defense came up with it (I think they grabbed it). Quan Bray gets an other reception in the flats for 8 yards, and a deep 30-yarder to Robert Foster was just off his fingertips. Winner: Peterman.
Allen’s handoff to the RB was immediately swarmed; he didn’t even get back to the LOS. Allen puts Shady in motion, he runs an out pattern that clears out the spot for Foster’s post route, and a big gain. Allen is sacked on his last play. Peterman puts Marcus Murphy in motion, and a pass breakup by Rafael Bush (playing the Kam Chancellor role) gets LB Coach onto the field, high-fiving his helmet. Another Play of the Day. Allen calls the team back in the huddle, and Daboll is incensed at someone. Allen throws a pass at Foster’s feet 25 yards downfield. Accuracy. On Allen’s following play, Breon Borders tips a pass intended for Keith Towbridge for the incompletion. Pretty nice play by Border’s, whose coverage is his forte, just not run defense. McCarron comes in and has Streater wide, with Logan Thomas in the slot. The pass to Charles Clay is caught, but he’s immediately swarmed. Fight Number Two. Shady is placed as a receiver on the next play, and he gets the pass for a minor gain. Finally, Peterman comes in and passes to Marcus Murphy on the near sideline. Croom blocks nicely for Cadet on Peterman’s seecond completion, and Peterman shows the eye discipline again completing another pas to Cadet. Winner: Peterman.
Let me know your thoughts.
Dean (Twitter: @TCBills_Astro)